Inside the NYJFF: Belief at a crossroads in Waiting for Armageddon

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Kate Davis, David Heilbroner, Franco Sacchi (directors of Waiting for Armageddon) with Richard Peña

If you had any doubt that the grass-roots growth of apocalyptic Evangelical Christianity could have the power and influence to shape American foreign policy, the new documentary Waiting for Armageddon will open your eyes. Centering on little-examined player in the conflict over Israel–American Evangelical Christians who heap support and tourist dollars on the embattled region–the documentary takes pains to thoroughly explore a complicated subject.

“Our purpose was to open a debate and make the world aware of the [Evangelical Christian] point of view,” said one of the film’s directors, David Heilbronner, at his appearance after the film’s premiere during the New York Jewish Film Festival. The documentary tracks followers of “dispensationalist” theology–the belief that the end times are coming and defusing geo-political conflicts, especially in the Middle East, may go against Biblical prophecy. What you hear from true believers over and over in the film is that Israel must exist for Armageddon to come, even though that Armageddon means that Jews in Israel and everywhere must accept Jesus as their savior.

Exploring this central contradiction provides the dramatic backbone of the film. And despite the extreme, apocalyptic beliefs of many Christians featured in the film, co-director Franco Saachi noted that “there is a real pitfall in cultivating an us vs. them mentality. We really wanted the critical perspectives to come from within the movement.” To that end, the filmmakers interviewed Mel White, a prominent former ghostwriter for Billy Graham, and others who have strong internal connections to American Evangelicalism.

Waiting for Armageddon manages the difficult feat of balancing illuminating everyday stories (like the Evangelical couple who work for a jet-engine manufacturer who say “a lot of tears were shed trying to reconcile science with scripture”) with eye-opening pronouncements from major actors on the world stage (Ehud Olmert is shown making an personal appeal to the Christians: “Israel loves you”). Further, the film demonstrates how important pressure from Evangelical groups have been in influencing American policy in the Middle East during the Bush adminstration. As Christians, Muslims and Jews alike personalize a culture clash, the filmmakers’ aim to shape the film as “the story of the end of the world” becomes a stark, but dramatic, choice.

Waiting for Armageddon closes the New York Jewish Film Festival tomorrow night at 8:30 PM.

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